Community: a group of people sharing common characteristics, common history or common social, economic, or political interests, often located in close physical proximity to other members; interactions are usually face-to-face. 1
Online Community: Same as above, with two big caveats, the proximity is virtual and interactions are digital. The small caveat is that online the commonality among members might not be as significant, but are just as real (like shared product, service or technical interest).
It is not New, but it is Different
What should be evident is that the idea of a community is not a new concept. What is new, however, is the transition from physical proximity to virtual proximity. In the purest of context, virtual communities began about as quickly as the Internet itself, predating the Web or fancy graphical interfaces. Virtual communities progressed from bulletin boards to forums and now we have something even better. What we have now are enhanced graphical capabilities and multiple device support; the user experience is better. One problem remains; integrating communities with the rest of the business. Too often, communities are sets of isolated conversations lost in the vastness of the web.
Communities should be used to bridge the gap from social media conversation to digital interactions with a purpose? Today many organization are trying to figure out how to leverage social conversations and these new connections to deliver a better customer experience. Customer communities are great way to accomplish this goal. As much as we would like to do it, taking the online conversations people are having about your company in Facebook and Twitter and dumping them into a CRM system just does not provide a whole lot of value. As you have learned with forums, your customers really do want to connect with you and while the basics have not changed, customers expect more as does your business.
But. In order to really leverage the benefits from social, you have to bring together people, processes, and technology necessary to listen, guide, and engage your customers in the digital world. That means paying attention, understanding who your customers are, and providing them with relevant information for the appropriate stage in the customer lifecycle. In that way, you can truly leverage the capabilities of social media to deliver the kinds of customer experiences that will keep them bringing their business back again and again.
Communities provide a smart way to build engagement in a way that provides your customers with navigable issue resolution, as well as to provide feedback and insights to you and your team.
A customer community allows you to collect and analyze data, derive insights about your customers that will then allow you to provide them with relevant, appropriate information at key points along the journey. Today’s forums, or customer communities, can be strongly linked to social networks in order to maximize insight, streamline campaigns, and drive organizational shift to bring your company into the social age. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Customer Experience is the superset of sensations, emotions and perceptions felt by your customers before, during and after product or service use. Enterprise Customer Experience represents the people, internal processes and technology required to listen, guide and engage your customers in the digital world; all towards creating better and enhanced experiences. Designing positive experiences begins with understanding needs and wants. Seems logical right? How else can you understand what your customer’s wants and needs, if you do not listen first?
The very next part is to prove that you are listening, if actions do not result, then it is not really listening at all. Yes, in this day and age, you do need to provide proof. For, example, if you do not plan to take any actions based on what you hear, are you really listening? That said, there are many ways to show that you are listening. The first is transparency, allowing people to see inside the organization where they can witness what you are doing, often at their bequest. The second, more interesting way is to specifically give people what they are looking for, as in information, service or a product enhancement.
To customers, being open means more than simply looking through the window, but being able to walk through the front door and participate. An engaging conversation is one where all voices are heard and respected and no one is simply listening, waiting to talk. In order to improve customer experience, you, your team and the whole organization needs to convert the listening to information that can be used to collaborate, co-create and engage at a personal level with your customers. This will take analyzing the data, providing relevant, consistent content, where and when your customers want it, need it and are expecting it.
It is time to move beyond what needs to be done and why it needs to be done. Some parts of your organization are more advanced than others, some are ready and some are not. The starting point should be clear. What is less clear is exactly HOW to progress in a uniform fashion from understanding what needs to be done, to actually doing it. It is time to progress from departmental Social Media initiatives to organizational digital communication programs. These programs should have defined and coordinated objectives. As the team and understanding of the technology mature, Social CRM is next logical step, with both business and technical integration and a digitally aware customer data model. Internally, CRM will have certain objectives, but it is time to add customer centricity, directed individual engagement and customer collaboration to those objectives. Finally, the end-game, Enterprise Customer Experience. Just my name for it, I suppose, but it seems to fit.
I put together a few slides where I tried to visualize some of my thoughts. The copy is taken from a white paper we just released as well. If you would like a copy of the white paper, please just send me an email mitch.lieberman – at – dri-global.com and I am happy to forward it along.
Social Media Initiatives are too often:
- Departmental and Uncoordinated,
- Loosely defined and with soft qualitative objectives,
- Lacking strong guidance that aligns with corporate vision
- Have little or no Governance or Oversight
- Driven by metrics with unproven value (like, follow, +)
Now to progress from disjointed efforts to coordinated and structured efforts,
Social Communication Programs that are characterized by:
- Multiple, linked digital initiatives,
- Defined and Coordinated goals (across departments),
- Agreed to processes for Content,
- Modestly Mature Governance,
- Data Capture and Burgeoning Analytics,
- Tighter agility to act upon lessons learned.
It takes maturation of the organization to make this progression. It is important to not that up until now the discussion is much less about technology than it is about people and process. Once the organization has matured, it is then possible to reach enhanced customer experience through Social CRM by further integrating more baseline technology, carefully and methodically.
Social CRM sets the course for creating better Customer Experiences, through:
- Coordinated Customer Facing Communication Programs,
- Both Technical and Business Level Integration,
- Advanced Analytics that Improve Customer Insights,
- Mature, Modern, Customer Data Model,
- Personal, Customer level Interactions and Engagement.
Now things start to get very interesting. Just when everyone was comfortable with the buzzwords, we are now ready to dump the term ‘Social’. The team realizes that social is a characteristic of people. The term is dispensed with and for the purposes of Customer Experience, the CRM platform is now in charge of the digital data and used for specific purposes.
It is time to execute CRM, across the Enterprise:
- Data, information and knowledge is universally accessible,
- Content and digital assets are consistent and shared,
- Back-office to front-office Collaboration creates efficiency,
- Customer facing processes are repeatable and embedded,
- Community and Customer Collaboration are part of the platform.
Finally, it is time to complete the
Enterprise Customer Experience vision:
- Customer centricity is a reality,
- Directed engagement at the level of the individual
- Analytics are predictive,
- Customer expectations are understood and met,
- Communications are conversational and collaborative,
- The organization is highly collaborative,
- Organizational culture is mature and ready.
In reviewing the Gartner Magic Quadrant a few weeks ago (A review I would not call ‘positive’), I started thinking about the ‘hard to articulate’ components of Social CRM. In techno-speak, we would call this integration, but, integration of what exactly? Many of you might know that I am a bit of an academic, so I dug a bit deeper to see how I might make some sense of where the CRM space is going. What I am getting at is that the hard part, the part in need of evaluation and work is the people and process part. Tell someone to “engage” and what exactly do you mean? It is the part of the process that happens in between the technology, the decision to engage and the conversation. In the real world, we have all spoken first and did the thinking second. With technology, we can do the same, only faster and more efficiently.
Every good space must be filled
As humans, we hate to think of a void, or a vacuum, there must be something there, right? When there is silence, we must talk (anyone with kids understands this!!). Artists absolutely know the value of white space, most of the rest of us do not. In technology, the cool thing about ‘the space between’ is that this is where innovation happens. We do not consider a process to be cumbersome until it takes a lot of energy and effort to get it done. It does not take a lot of energy and effort to get it done until there are lots of steps and manual processes. Techies then try to create an application or a process to make the manual steps easier, automation, efficiency and process control. The problem is that certain things still take a human to do.
Not sure what you think, but I think it is really cool that Google is trying to figure out how to automate driving a car. I would like to see that in New York City, maybe a Yellow Cab, yeah, right, not so fast (I will choose to skip the early adoption phase for that one). OK, how about something simpler, like responding to a person who has a question? A couple weeks ago I went through the help system for a major service provider and I could just tell when the chat responses were canned, it was really annoying. They were not bad responses, nor wrong either, they just felt awkward. In the end, my problem was solved and I did not spend a lot of time on hold. I suppose I should be happy, but I am writing about the awkwardness of the experience, so the jury is still out.
OK, what is the point?
Customer experience is the space between the process you designed and the use of the product or the interactions with the system. Internally, the space between is the efficiency, coordination, collaboration; interactions within the system. Externally, the space between is hard, near impossible to control. It can be guided, lead, but not controlled. The space between is an area of uncertainty, doubt and likely internal arguments. When you begin to measure it, to try to understand it, then it is no longer the space between, it is the end-point, an interaction and something is lost. To understand more about what I am doing these days, please check out DRI.
(No need to cue the Dave Mathews Band)
Organizations big and small are feeling pressure to get everything “right.” Social interactions are public, tweets are scrutinized, Facebook posts are challenged, networks like Pinterest Google + are growing rapidly, evolving daily. In this environment of open and public communications transparency is not really an option, it just is – get used to it. Social CRM is an opportunity, scary and daunting. Social CRM is a bridge to the connected customer. It is part strategy, part process and yes, technology; all in support of an organizations goals and objectives. Social CRM is an enabler an extension of CRM. it allows companies to truly engage customers, resolve problems, recognize new revenue streams and gather detailed customer behavioral data. Social CRM, as an initiative will fail if it is considered revolutionary. It is transformative, an evolutionary step towards customer centricity. The complexities should not be taken lightly, as joining social media and CRM, is more nuanced than simply more channels, more rules and random best practices.
Part of the confusion comes from looking at social as a new phenomenon, as opposed to what it really is – a way to extend customer communications and interactions across new and diverse channels. Being social is as old as civilization itself. What is really new is that in the information age, in a services based economy, companies now need to listen and pay attention. The consequences to ignoring (ignorance?) will be harsh. The good news is that companies should be able predict how their social media activities will work by looking at how well they incorporated earlier technologies into their CRM discipline. For example, how well a company integrated email into its CRM and marketing channels will provide an indication of how easily Twitter, Chat and other programs will be incorporated. One of the bigger challenges will be who (which department) will “own” the social channels. Here is the answer; IT owns the infrastructure, the process is shared across the company.
Looking at social media channels as an extension of existing CRM makes some sense; but it is not the way that many companies are incorporating social media into their daily routines. More than half of all organizations have adopted the use of some form of social media, intending to use it in some sort of social CRM practice (Customer Service for example): >50% adopted Twitter and nearly 60% adopted Facebook. The success of Social CRM has less to do with the size of the company than with how seasoned the CRM and marketing teams are at extending their processes with newer technologies. Social CRM is about being human and scaling the company personality. Social is different when it is applied to Sales versus Customer Service or Marketing, it has to be different. This is why there is no need for a Social CRM Magic Quadrant!
Recent data suggests that larger companies (more than 1000 employees) have been using social CRM for 2+ years, but smaller companies are quickly catching up. What is really interesting is the finding that there is no “standard” method for social CRM and social CRM lead generation success. Companies with comfort and practice in integrating new media to traditional channels are the most successful, but how to turn a Tweet into a sale varies extensively by company, with other factors, such as target buyer demographics coming into play.
What is clear is that the companies who can successfully extend their CRM practices to include social media channels (in process and execution) will be at the forefront of truly leveraging ‘social’ for business benefit. Being able to tap into user behavior and communicating with them in a smart way, such as offering targeted services or information relating to a customer’s usage patterns, is the end goal of forward looking CRM. However, customers are not expecting this level of service. Customers don’t always expect an answer to their Tweet are leery of an offer related to their customer profile (or worse, their Facebook profile), so caution is advised. Consumers and buyers will be expecting a high level of service in the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years; now is the time to get the channels ready.
This is my goal with launching DRI US – the execution, getting it right and helping others figure out how to do it also.
Regardless of how companies merge social media into CRM and other channels, one point is clear: social media gives customers a stronger voice and way to engage. Companies now have a way to leverage social channels, but they can also make social channels a powerful way for customers, advocates, investors and others to interact with their brand and become ambassadors. The emergence of Google+, Pinterest and others provide an almost hybrid combination of social media and brand visibility that can allow a powerful channel for awareness. Companies should look for ways to include these channels into their marketing, advertising and CRM programs, approaching them from the angle of how customers would first enter and engage. Those companies that are among the first to do this will be innovators in the continued emergence of social channels.
Every Tuesday evening (9 pm EST) a group of people get together on Twitter to discuss Customer Service. You could call it a Tweet Chat, Twitter Jam or a Virtual Water Cooler. The Hashtag; the way in which participants can both filter out noise and denote participation is #custserv. I do not participate every Tuesday, but try and listen in and join in when the timing works and have been doing so for quite a while. The focus last night was on front line agents. The chats are archived, diligently by Marsha Collier, here. but just to share some quick stats regarding last night (October 9, 2012); 95 participants (give or take) and my absolute favorite zero links, in the >750 messages exchanged.
But, how much can actually be shared in 140 characters? Do people simply ‘talk’ and not listen? Everyone has their own approach some topic are more spirited than others, that is for sure. Some people represent big business, some medium, some one person solopreneurs; some consultants, authors, speakers, vendors and practitioners. The egos are checked at the ‘door’ everyone has an opinion that matters. To answer my first question, yes, quite a lot can be shared in 140 characters, it does amaze me sometimes. Of course, there is the occasional ‘sound bite’ but those are becoming more rare.
OK, so how important IS the Front Line Service Person?
As I stated, the topic was regarding front line agents – my quick response to this was “Frontline is an attitude, not a person”. Moving beyond the soundbite, there is a series of subtopics which arise and can be discussed. When I said it, what I was thinking about was actually a bit of a technical spin, but even then there is so much more. The topic of the human element is very important and I will leave that to experts like Kate Nasser – check her work, it is time well spent. However, increasingly, the front line of your organization is technical – sometimes guided by humans, sometimes not. While I do not want to conjure images of battles, the front line of modern warfare is almost all electronic, with human input and intelligence playing a supporting role.
(No, I do not want you to consider doing battle with your customers – I was just making a point. Do a Google search for Front Line, I dare you)
Yes, each bit of technology should be carefully vetted, reviewed, scrutinized and checked again before deployment; but technology as the most likely front line agent is highly likely. From static websites, to FAQs and videos to knowledge bases and Integrated Voice Response systems and automatic email replies and avatar type text chats, non-humans are the only way many businesses are going to be able to scale. Because, in the end, businesses are there to make money. It is a tough, competitive, world out there and every chance they get to be more efficient will be taken.
Is this about Customer Service, Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction or Social CRM – Yes!
Life is truly stranger than fiction. You cannot make this stuff up. But, before I go there, let me do a little compare and contrast and start with how things should be done.
(This is an expanded post based on the original – with a bit of a teaser on survey results at the bottom)
First talked about in 1844, written about again in 1854, patented (US) in 1876, argued about for another 10 years, connected across the US in 1915: The Telephone. We cannot forget the importance of Alexander Graham Bell (and many others, to be fair), a native of Edinburgh, Scotland a short trip from the Ciboodle HQ outside of Glasgow. So, here we are nearly 100 years from that first cross country call and the phone remains relevant, even more important than many communication channels which have come on the scene since. Friend Mark Tamis suggests that given my thoughts and writing regarding cross channel, I could have been a bit more creative and played on the word ‘cross’ a bit m0re – he is probably right – but I digress.
A Chat With Paul Greenberg
“When push comes to shove, social stuff is still, and even email, is degrees of separation. People are nastier in emails than they ever are in person…Consequently, the real one-on-one interaction is always the telephone” Paul Greenberg
I had a great opportunity to spend a few minutes talking with Paul Greenberg while at the Destination CRM show in NYC. It just so happened that during this time we had a video crew on stand-by and were able to spontaneously capture the moments on film, with excellent lighting of course.
During the emergent phase of Social Communications, the phase we are in right now, the core objective of many social platforms is to go get something done on another platform. To some, this is go read this article, to others; this is please go buy something. In the customer service realm, this is often to shift the communications from a channel that is hard, like email or Twitter, to something synchronous and real-time. It is still too difficult to resolve a personal, complex or sensitive issue on a Facebook wall or in 140 characters.
Multi-channel customer service is the wave the present and we will certainly ride this wave into the future. We will see an increase use of social channels for many different things, but we will hop from one channel to the next (cross-channel) and make contextual decisions based on many things. In the end, when there is an emotionally charged issue, or an urgent issue such as a service outage, insurance claim, bank issue – in person or face to face communication and the telephone will remain critical to problem resolution for many years to come.
“The phone is ultimately how things will get resolved, if it is big enough”
A bit of a Teaser
What do you think? Am I being over simplistic? Too conservative in my approach and thoughts? I invite you to give some feedback and challenge me a bit. Esteban Kolsky and his Research firm thinkJar are just now completing a survey and I am finding the results very interesting. As a bit of a teaser, out of 300 respondents, when asked the question “What social service channels does your organization currently support?” over 60% said they support Twitter and a handful more (literally) said they support Facebook. This is a cross industry, cross continental result set – one that we will be digging into (ie, slicing and dicing the data a bit) in more depth in the upcoming weeks. Does that number surprise you? It did surprise me….
- There is a Big Difference Between Can’t and Won’t
- Stop Thinking in Two Dimensions
- No Beginning, No Middle and No End
- Rethinking the Customer Journey
- The Simplest Thing I Ever Had to Write
- Context Integration, the Future of System to System Interactions
- The Evolution of Customer Community
- The Fine Line Between Personalization and Creepy
- Experience Innovation
- Maybe We are Using the Wrong Words to Describe Collaboration
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